QUESTION: I love the holidays but would like to know how we get through the holiday season without gaining a ton of weight? Any help you can give would be appreciated by a lot of us out there. Thank you.

ANSWER: There are a couple of major problems associated with the holidays that must be controlled if you expect to be successful in maintaining your weight. First, there is always too much food around, and many of the food items are fatty or sugary, made with special care to show love for family and friends.Avoid baking goodies and making candy yourself and freeze some of the high-calorie gifts you receive to be used for special occasions later in the year. Take it easy when you are offered goodies; take only enough to be able to compliment the giver. Be sure that you have plenty of healthful snacks such as fruits, sliced vegetables (without dips) and crispbreads on hand to satisfy the munching need as you have days off to celebrate during the holiday period.

Be careful when preparing the major meals to emphasize low-fat foods. Try to use low-fat meat (turkey, chicken, fish), lots of vegetables and only a few of the higher-fat cheesey, creamy things so often included in these meals. Try to be creative with desserts so that they are lower in calories, fat and sugar.

The second major problem relates to exercise. Between the shorter, colder days and increased time pressures associated with shopping, holiday parties and family activities, the amount of exercise you do sometimes gets restricted. It is critical that you plan the time to do at least as much exercise as you normally do, and if possible, increase the activity level a little to counteract the effects of some of the extra food.

There are several ways to increase the total number of calories you burn. First, take walks with family members instead of visiting indoors. If there is snow, wear snow boots and enjoy it. Remember, you use about 100 kcals each mile, but with snow boots, the cost would go up, even if you didn't walk too fast. Using snowshoes almost doubles the caloric output. Of course, if you cross-country ski, you could expend lots of extra calories. Even downhill skiing would help expend energy.

Many people get a good workout with some of the indoor exercise equipment I discussed in the last few columns. You can decrease the boredom associated with indoor exercise equipment by watching TV or reading a good book while you work. Climbing stairs several times a day can also increase the total calories you use.

Although the holidays are sometimes a challenge in terms of weight control, the key to success is to eat moderate portions of low-fat/low-sugar foods and exercise regularly in or out-of-doors. If you do this, the chances are good that your weight will remain constant. Good luck!